LeBron James Is Your Non-Unanimous 2012-13 MVP, and I'm Fine with That
I am mesmerized by LeBron James.
I'll admit, he's converted me. I am a fan. This is coming from someone who wrote four straight posts around the time of "The Decision" in July 2010 about what an asshole LeBron was. This is coming from someone who openly rooted against him every time he was on my television screen. I think I even stood and booed in my living room one time. And I don't ever boo.
LeBron James drove me to irrational levels of athlete hatred.
But somewhere along the way, probably about the time he was tearing the Boston Celtics' heart from their collective chest in Game 6 of the Eastern Conference Finals last season, I realized that enjoying the Age of LeBron was going to constitute a far more pleasant existence than resisting it. Greatness was in full bloom.
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I've now even gone so far as to repeatedly argue on my show that LeBron is the best ever, blasphemy to my Chicago native co-host John Granato.
If all of this makes me a bandwagonner, then so be it. I've pushed my basketball chips to the center of the table on LeBron.
Which makes my reaction to his not being named the 2012-2013 Most Valuable Player unanimously surprising to me, and my reaction is this:
LeBron's 2012-13 season was so dominant that the speculation as NBA "awards season" was unfolding wasn't if he would win the MVP, it wasn't by how much he would win the MVP, it was "Would King James win the MVP unanimously?"
Would LeBron have it ALL? ALL the votes, ALL the accolades, essentially a microcosm for what 2012-2013 was and will be these next six weeks or so. LeBron James' taking over the basketball universe.
So we basketball fans and media speculated about it. Over beers, on our shows, on Twitter, we tried to find a way that someone could vote a human being not named LeBron James as the MVP of the National Basketball Association. Naturally, none of us could do it.
But we'd seen slight dissension in the face of this kind of dominance before. In 2000, CNN's Fred Hickman cast the lone first place vote for someone other than the Lakers' Shaquille O'Neal, voting for Philadelphia's Allen Iverson, in large part because (and I'm paraphrasing here) without Shaq the Lakers were still a playoff team, but without Iverson the Sixers were the Washington Generals.
"Could this happen again?" I asked myself. Just to be safe, I decided to rehearse my anger and exasperation last week. I may or may not have even stood in front of a mirror and practiced the scathing promo I would cut come Monday on the person who dare denigrate King James to runner-up status on his ballot. (I didn't actually do that, but the visual is kind of funny.)
And then Sunday, the results came in. LeBron James captured the NBA's 2012-2013 Most Valuable Player award.
He received 120 of 121 possible first place votes.
My first reaction was actually calm and rational: All right, what attention seeking media whore voted for Kevin Durant? And how many times will we see this person on SportsCenter come Monday morning?
Then the details began to trickle out, and we discovered that the lone non-LeBron first place vote actually went to New York Knicks forward Carmelo Anthony, and ironically came not from a New York-based writer, but from an NBA writer for the Boston Globe named Gary Washburn.
Despite my mental rehearsals of my fury over the LeBron single vote snub, I decided to give Washburn his day in court to explain to me, to LeBron fans everywhere, his rationale.
The entire column is available on the Globe's website, and it's well written. Amidst numerous admissions from Washburn that LeBron is clearly the league's best player and will likely shatter Kareem Abdul-Jabbar's record six MVP awards, here are the high points:
I voted for Carmelo Anthony based on his importance to the New York Knicks, who, if you haven't been paying attention the past decade, have failed to be relevant.
...this isn't the Best Player in the Game award, it's the Most Valuable Player award, and I think what Anthony accomplished this season was worthy of my vote. He led the Knicks to their first division title in 19 years. That's a long time ago.
...Anthony led the league in scoring average and basically carried an old Knicks team to the No. 2 seed in the Eastern Conference. Amar'e Stoudemire missed most of the season with knee issues, Raymond Felton missed six weeks, and Tyson Chandler dealt with nagging injuries, leaving Anthony, J.R. Smith, and a bunch of lottery picks from the mid-1990s to win 54 games and beat the Miami Heat three times.
...my vote had more to do with Anthony and less to do with the dominance of LeBron. If you were to take Anthony off the Knicks, they are a lottery team. James plays with two other All-Stars, the league's all-time 3-point leader, a defensive stalwart, and a fearless point guard. The Heat are loaded.
...If LeBron was taken away from the Heat, they still would be a fifth or sixth seed. He is the best player of this generation, a multifaceted superstar with the physical prowess of Adonis, but I chose to reward a player who has lifted his team to new heights.
Washburn's rationale is so close to Hickman's for his Iverson-over-Shaq vote in 2000 that you could probably Mad Lib those quotes above with various Laker and Sixer names from that 1999-2000 season and cobble together a reasonable facsimile of Hickman's explanation.
And guess what? I'm fine with this.
Yes, I thought I'd be stewing, seething, peppering Gary Washburn with tweets about his basketball intelligence, all of that. But I'm not, and I realize that, despite it being impossible for me to disagree with a human being more than I do with Washburn right now, it's not his fault.
Most Valuable Player. That's the name of the award. It's not the best player, it's the most valuable. And that ambiguity of what "valuable" means within the context of a player to his team or league is the root of all of these inane debates about what sometimes feels like it should be undebatable, topics like the canyon sized separation between LeBron James' greatness and the greatness of whomever is second best.
If it were the "Player of the Year" or the "Most Outstanding Player," these debates would be easy, if not nonexistent. But the fact that a player's "value to his team" is injected into the mix, gives voters the latitude to shape the award's definition, if not over think things entirely.
Because someone has to be to blame for everything in life, I spent hours this morning trying to find who to blame for the nebulousness of MVP awards. As best I can tell, the first MVP award was given in baseball back in the 1920's and the award was to go to "the baseball player who is of the greatest all-around service to his club."
So there you go. Instead of just saying the award goes to the "best player," baseball had to give the award some sort of relativity to each player's team, adding a second almost-impossible-to-quantify layer of subjectivity on top of an oftentimes polarizing, already subjective debate. Not only do we want you to determine who's best, but what would happen if their team were to lose them?
Good luck with that.
(And that, by the way, assumes that all media choose to define "valuable" that way, because I've heard Most Valuable Player defined by different media folk as value to a player's team and value to the league (whatever the hell that means). )
This is kind of my point: Somewhere along the way, someone took a fairly easy concept -- who had the best season? -- and by inserting the word "valuable" and the concept of "value" (instead of just focusing on sheer productivity) they turned the sport's marquee annual award into one big subjective circle jerk of hypothetical, a circle jerk whereby a voter could argue that Carmelo Anthony's 2012-2013 season is more deserving of supreme recognition than LeBron James' "dropped the nukes on the rest of the league" 2012-2013 season and not sound like a total dumb ass in doing so.
In the end, LeBron James got his award, and Gary Washburn has a semi-coherent argument for Carmelo Anthony, so I guess we all live happily ever after.
The moral of the story: Don't hate the voter, blame baseball.
Listen to Sean Pendergast on 1560 Yahoo! Sports Radio from 3 p.m. to 7 p.m. weekdays and nationally on the Yahoo! Sports Radio network Saturdays from 10 a.m. to noon CST. Also, follow him on Twitter at http://twitter.com/SeanCablinasian.
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